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Joseph Smith as Translator Part 1

Viewpoint on Mormonism / Bill McKeever
The Truth Network Radio
August 22, 2021 9:23 pm

Joseph Smith as Translator Part 1

Viewpoint on Mormonism / Bill McKeever

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August 22, 2021 9:23 pm

This week Bill and Eric interview Sandra Tanner (Mormonism: Shadow or Reality) as we consider Joseph Smith’s track record as a translator, including: The Book of Mormon The Bible The Book of Abraham The Book of Moses The Kinderhook Plates Should Joseph Smith be trusted? Or were his translation abilities suspect? Tune in this week!

Viewpoint on Mormonism
Bill McKeever

The book Sharing the Good News with Mormons edited by Shawn McDowell and Mormonism Research Ministries Eric Johnson offers practical witnessing strategies by a number of Christian missionaries, scholars, and pastors. Sharing the Good News with Mormons is published by Harvest House and is available at your favorite online bookstore or order it directly from

If you're looking for practical strategies for getting the conversation started, be sure to check out Sharing the Good News with Mormons. Viewpoint on Mormonism, the program that examines the teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from a biblical perspective. Viewpoint on Mormonism is sponsored by Mormonism Research Ministry. Since 1979, Mormonism Research Ministry has been dedicated to equipping the body of Christ with answers regarding the Christian faith in a manner that expresses gentleness and respect. And now, your host for today's Viewpoint on Mormonism. Welcome to this edition of Viewpoint on Mormonism. I'm your host, Bill McKeever, founder and director of Mormonism Research Ministry, and with me today is Eric Johnson, my colleague at MRM, but we also have with us our good friend Sandra Tanner, and this week we hope to talk about Joseph Smith. He's not only known as a prophet, seer, and revelator, but one of the attributes given Mormon prophets be the ability to translate, and Joseph Smith certainly did claim on a number of occasions that he could translate. And so we're going to talk about Joseph Smith's translating ability. So Sandra, welcome back to the show. Good to have you.

Hello. We're going to talk first of all about the Book of Mormon because that is no doubt the most prominent, unique scripture to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We want to move on into other areas because Joseph Smith didn't just allegedly translate the Book of Mormon, the gold plates from the Reformed Egyptian into English, but he also translated other things as well. Why don't you give us a rundown on how you were taught as a Latter-day Saint regarding the translation of the Book of Mormon? Well, it was always presented to me that there were literally gold plates hidden in a hill that the angel directed Joseph to translate, and saved with the plates was what the Book of Mormon refers to as interpreters, which later got called Urim and Thummim, and that these specially preserved large spectacles is what they sound like. Large glasses with crystal lenses were the items that he would look through to look at the plates to translate, and that he literally was looking at the plates and translating as any scholar would do, so that what he dictated would literally be a rendering in English of what was written on the plates.

So it was inspired by God, but it was inspired to do a translation in the same sense that anyone else would have translated the plates. The subject of Reformed Egyptian. Nobody that I know of who is an expert in Egyptology has ever heard of Reformed Egyptian. What do some of the Mormon scholars have to say about that? Well, the Mormon scholars would just backpedal on what is meant by Reformed Egyptian that doesn't have to be called that, and they may bring up the fact that there's different scripts for Egyptian. Hieroglyphics then moved to heretic that then moved to demotic, which were later forms of how you wrote Egyptian, but the Book of Mormon sample that Joseph gave us of the writing is not representative of any of these three Egyptian types of script, so it has to be something totally different than anything known to translators. Sandra, do you believe that the Urim and Thummim, those special instruments that supposedly Joseph Smith was given when he recovered the plates, were ever used by Joseph Smith to be able to translate the Book of Mormon? Well, that gets real sketchy because the earliest people to help with the translation, Joseph's wife Emma and Martin Harris, when they later gave statements of the process, they witnessed, they describe him using a stone and a hat. They do not describe him using these spectacles that were supposedly saved with the plates, so although I was raised to believe that the spectacles were used during the first 116 pages of translation work, at which time he switched to using the stone and the hat, we don't have statements from eyewitnesses of him actually using these interpreters, Urim and Thummim, these large-sized spectacles that were supposedly saved, which raises the whole issue and question, why were they even saved in the first place?

God's preserved these, evidently, for thousands of years for Joseph to use to translate the Book of Mormon plates, yet as far as we know, no one saw him use them. You have a number of customers come into your bookstore. Many of them are Latter-day Saints who are beginning to have doubts about their faith. They're not really here to buy books.

They want to talk to somebody, and your bookstore makes it a safe place for people to talk to you. In your estimation, just based on your conversations with some of the customers that come in here, how many of them were aware that Joseph Smith used a seer stone and a hat, because we find that to be, well, at least before the Church admitted it in the Gospel Topics essay, that many Latter-day Saints were kind of surprised that the Church admitted that. And let me add in one more thing, Sandra. I was just talking to a 90-year-old Latter-day Saint who converted when he was 29. He's 90 today. And I asked him this question a few days ago. I said, did you know that Joseph Smith translated with the stone and a hat? He says, of course I did. I said, how long have you known that?

He says, I've known it all my life. Do you think he was telling me the truth? It's possible, depending on what he read. I mean, the statements of using the stone and the hat were made by David Whitmer way back in 1887. So there were little used historical items that would have mentioned the stone and the hat, but not through standard Mormon channels, not from the average person's experience. Even though there have been times when the Mormon Church historians have mentioned the stone and the hat, it's possible he could have read some article mentioning the use of the stone and the hat, but it would not have been the standard narrative the Church would have been putting out.

It wouldn't have been the way the missionaries would have been trained. So that you may have had some Mormon scholar write something about it, but it was not the standard instruction that was given out. In fact, I had a Mormon fellow in this week that went on his mission just, I think it was 10 or 11 years ago, and he didn't know about the stone and the hat when he went on his mission.

Wow, that's relatively recent. It wasn't until he came back from his mission that he found out about the stone and the hat, and he felt very much like he had been lied to about many issues, but that was one of them. That he went out to tell people about the Book of Mormon on this very specific claim of God giving him this translation and the use of the Urim and Thumm on the bed and saved with the plates and all of that, and now he feels like, well, I misinformed all these people because that wasn't the real story.

Well, it's interesting because you're absolutely correct. If this particular gentleman that Eric ran into had read certain things, he probably certainly could have come across that. And you mentioned David Whitmer, who was one of the three witnesses to the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. But how many Latter-day Saints really know about the book he wrote? I remember when I was first studying Mormonism, I was not aware of that.

I had to learn that from people like you. That's who were telling the story. It was the critics of Mormonism. It wasn't necessarily scholars that were talking about this openly. But once you find David Whitmer's An Address to All Believers in Christ, yeah, he mentions this. But how many know about that booklet?

Right. Most people don't. And people tell me quite often about, look at the statement of the three witnesses. They all affirm the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.

And when I mentioned to them, well, have you read all of David Whitmer's statement? He didn't just affirm the Book of Mormon at the end of his life. He also affirmed that Joseph Smith was a fallen prophet because they've never heard about David Whitmer's pamphlet where he explains all his beliefs. And let's just be honest, most Latter-day Saints I don't think knew since 2015. The church made a big deal about it and brought out the seer stone, and it made the front page of the newspaper.

I just can't imagine too many people really knew about it, except for maybe people who were looking to do research on it. How many Latter-day Saints do you find that actually are doing research? The pamphlet that this gentleman gave me, and I was hiking actually at Mount Tippinogos, and he had a shirt that said, converted by the Book of Mormon. A 90-year-old man who walks up every day and does this hike. He was an interesting man.

We had about a 20-minute conversation, but he hands me a pamphlet. Joseph Smith translates the gold plates. Well, what's the picture on the front page? It's Joseph Smith with his finger on the plates, just like the February 2001 Ensign magazine, which has a similar kind of picture, but now the church art is showing that Joseph Smith was looking into a hat. You'll see this in the church art.

In fact, a recent movie that we reviewed called Witnesses, they never talk about the Urim and Thummim, they only talk about the seer stone. And if he does this off of the seer stone, of course that raises the question, why did he even need plates in the first place? It seems pretty cruel of God to put Joseph Smith through this horrible ordeal where he's attacked by three people, two of whom we now learn from the church itself were armed, and yet Joseph Smith is somehow able to fight off these attackers and run away from them, carrying these heavy plates with a limp. So if he didn't need the plates, because wasn't it William Smith? I believe it may have been William Smith who said that many times when he was translating the plates were lying nearby covered up. Well, if the plates are even there at all, why are they covered up? Why isn't he actually looking at the plates as this picture that was on the cover of the Ensign magazine years ago? What would be the purpose of the plates that doesn't seem like they're needed at all? And yet when I read some of the stories by Mormon scholars on this, in my opinion, and I know people are going to say, well, you just don't believe anyway, you don't have an open mind, Bill.

I'm going, but wait, it doesn't seem to make sense. Give me a good reason why he needed plates if he didn't need them at all. The problem gets much more complicated even than that, because nowadays the scholars are talking about him adding some of his own inspiration and spiritual thoughts into the translation, not just what was literally on the plates. So more and more, it looks like he didn't need the plates at all, because not only did he not look at them while he's translating, he evidently was free to interpose his own thoughts as he went along. Sandra, what do you think if somebody were to ask you the biggest problem of the Book of Mormon translation process?

I mean, there's a lot of issues we've talked about here today, but what would be the biggest? Well, number one, we have no evidence there were ever any plates. Number two, the type of script Joseph Smith said he copied off doesn't amount to any kind of known language, nothing that can be decided on pinning it down to any culture, as opposed to the Bible, where you have real manuscripts that are in real languages that any scholar can translate. I think those are all major problems for the Book of Mormon and its physicality. Then you have the whole problem of the internal content of the Book of Mormon, that it's all out of sync for what we know about the Americas. There's so many anachronisms in the Book of Mormon to have them going to war with horses and chariots and having steel swords is totally out of place for the time frame.

So it's just a whole package of problems for the Book of Mormon, whether you approach it from the physical object of the plates or the translation and content, all of that becomes problematic. We've been talking with Sandra Tanner. She's the founder of Utah Lighthouse Ministry. If you want to check out their website, it's And tomorrow we're going to continue this conversation regarding Joseph Smith as a translator. at, where you can request our free newsletter, Mormonism Researched. We hope you will join us again as we look at another viewpoint on Mormonism.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-09-14 01:07:08 / 2023-09-14 01:12:30 / 5

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